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Shipshape India targets series sweep

Khawaja likely to be picked for Sydney T20I as Watson takes over the reins, but Australia has its work cut out
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A week ago, Virat Kohli spoke of how the India team had to look at its entire Australia tour as one packaged series of eight matches, even though five of them were One-Day Internationals and three were Twenty20 Internationals. Kohli had just endured the heartbreak of seeing India lose control of a chase he and Shikhar Dhawan had set up perfectly in Canberra to go 4-0 down.

Three matches have passed since then, and India has turned the tables, winning the last ODI and sealing the Twenty20 International series by going 2-0 up. The last match of the tour will pit the two sides against each other at the Sydney Cricket Ground for one final time, and a 4-4 result, that looked improbable just over a week ago, is now within reach.

India is looking like the settled side with men who can step up to seize game-changing moments, while Australia, with several first-choice players missing, looks a little bit adrift. For the last T20I on Sunday (January 31), Shane Watson will become the ninth Australian T20I captain, being handed the reins after Aaron Finch’s unfortunate left hamstring injury in the second match in Melbourne.

Watson will lead a fairly green team as it tries to avoid a series sweep against India. “It is an honour to be asked to lead the side on Sunday, although the circumstances are far from ideal,” he said. “We may have lost the series but there is a great deal to play for with the ICC World Twenty20 coming up, and you can be sure we will be determined to do well in Sydney.”

There will be two more debutants for Australia in the last match if all goes to plan. Cameron Bancroft will take the gloves, with Matthew Wade part of a group sent ahead to New Zealand to prepare for Australia’s next series. And in all likelihood, Usman Khawaja will be one of the openers, partnering Shaun Marsh. Watson, who was Khawaja’s teammate in Sydney Thunder’s run to the Big Bash League title, had said, “All I know is Usman Khawaja was as good, if not better, than I've seen anyone bat. And I've been fortunate through my career to see a lot of great players playing. Usman's very well placed to be able to play anywhere at the moment, wherever the opportunity arises.”

One of the few positives for Australia was the performance of Andrew Tye, who made his debut in the second T20I in Melbourne and held his own against an in-form batting trio of Kohli, Rohit Sharma and Shikhar Dhawan.

But for the rest, the India top order has been well nigh impregnable. Michael di Venuto, the batting coach who is filling in as head coach while Darren Lehmann recuperates from Deep Vein Thrombosis, agreed that his side had fallen far short of India. “We’re getting completely outplayed on the field in every department,” said di Venuto. “Their batters are in outstanding touch and have been all summer. We’re just struggling to get early wickets and get into their middle order. They’re playing exceptionally well.”

Foremost in that is Kohli himself, who has been the Man of the Match in both previous T20Is, scoring runs at a blistering pace and saving them with equal energy when on the field. What has worked for India is the good support the batsmen have got from bowlers and fielders.

Australia might want to consider giving Shaun Tait another go. He had a poor first match, but while his later overs were misdirected, he could have had a couple of wickets initially. Moreover, having recalled him to the side, it’s at least fair to give the ‘wild thing’ one more chance to fail or succeed.

For India, MS Dhoni ruled out any ‘experimentation’ for the third ODI. Though it might not be the best idea to disturb India’s winning combination, it could be worthwhile to send in the likes of Yuvraj Singh and Hardik Pandya a little higher up the order to give them time in the middle and assess their batting skills.

One minor worry could be Rohit's fitness. He was hit by a Tye delivery while batting, and didn't take the field to nurse a sore right thumb, but a source close to the team said that as of Saturday, all members of the squad were available for selection. If Rohit is rested as a precaution, India has Ajinkya Rahane as a readymade replacement at the top of the order.
The heartening bit for India is how well the spinners have operated. Keeping the ICC World T20 always in mind, if R Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja can tie batsmen down on Australian pitches, they will surely be a handful when the surfaces offer more, as they should in India.

With only one match remaining, both teams chose to take it easy on Saturday, and didn’t hold training sessions at the Sydney Cricket Ground. That was just as well, because the city was lashed by rains. The forecast for Sunday is a lot better, and so far, the series has managed to evade the wrath of the skies.

It only needs to do that for one more night, and either India can go back feeling victorious at having achieved parity, or Australia can take the bragging rights in having won the greater number of matches overall.

Australia: Shane Watson (captain), Cameron Bancroft (wk), Scott Boland, Cameron Boyce, James Faulkner, Travis Head, Usman Khawaja, Nathan Lyon, Chris Lynn, Shaun Marsh, Glenn Maxwell, Shaun Tait, Andrew Tye.

India: Rohit Sharma, Shikhar Dhawan, Virat Kohli, Yuvraj Singh, Suresh Raina, MS Dhoni (capt, wk), Hardik Pandya, Ravindra Jadeja, R Ashwin, Jasprit Bumrah, Ashish Nehra, Rishi Dhawan, Gurkeerat Singh Mann, Harbhajan Singh, Ajinkya Rahane, Umesh Yadav.

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Pakistan won by 180 runs
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338/4
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158
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England won by 40 runs (DLS Method)
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